Despite all the social ills and medical crises in the world today, there sure are a lot of people who want to give their hard-earned cash to cops accused of murder and rape.
Yesterday, the Daily Dot reported on a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign in support of Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma police officer arrested and charged with rape after he allegedly sexually assaulted eight women while on patrol. The campaign had raised $7,390 in nine days for Holtzclaw, who maintains his innocence.
Following the Daily Dot’s report and after receiving a “high number of complaints,” GoFundMe removed the campaign later that day.
Was this the right move? Although the details of the allegations are horrifying, Holtzclaw has yet to be tried and, like anyone else, has a right to a legal defense fund. But GoFundMe certainly doesn’t have to play host to it, and is perfectly within its rights to remove it. The site’s terms and conditions prohibit “items that promote hate, violence, racial intolerance, or the financial exploitation of a crime,” and this would seem to fall into that catchall description.
But one question remains: Under the same rationale, why hasn’t GoFundMe removed the campaign for Darren Wilson, the police officer who allegedly shot Michael Brown under still-unclear circumstances in Ferguson, MO? That campaign has been allowed to raise a whopping $235,550 since launching on August 17. And while donations are no longer being accepted, a spokesperson told the LA Times that GoFundMe was not responsible for halting donations and that the campaign organizer can choose to begin accepting them again at any time. The campaign has already caused headaches for GoFundMe after the page became riddled with appallingly racist comments from donors. (The company has since removed the offensive comments).
I emailed GoFundMe and asked the company to better clarify its policy on facilitating fundraising for people accused of crimes, but have not yet heard back. I will update the post if I do.
UPDATE, 9:07 PT: GoFundMe emailed, but it’s the same boilerplate response it used yesterday for press inquiries into the Holtzclaw removal. It adds nothing new to this discussion, but I’ve added it to the bottom of the post.
One possible explanation is that the Wilson and Holtzclaw cases call for different standards because, while Holtzclaw has been formally charged with a crime, Wilson has not. But if anything, a person who’s been charged with a crime is more deserving of a legal defense fund — though in the case of Holtzclaw, if even a fraction of the allegations are true, GoFundMe should want nothing to do with him. Still, our justice system does make mistakes, charging the innocent while the guilty walk free.
Certainly, GoFundMe has a right to remove or preserve campaigns however it sees fit. But if it’s going to allow some campaigns that raise cash for people accused of a crime while removing others, it needs a consistent policy.
Let’s not forget that GoFundMe, like virtually all crowdfunding platforms, takes a cut of each donation. And by cracking down on Holtzclaw’s modest $7,390 campaign while allowing Wilson’s $235,550 campaign to shoulder on despite similarities between the two, it invites criticism that perhaps its actions are based less on standards and more on profits.
GoFundMe’s response to Holtzclaw inquiries:
GoFundMe is home to millions of individual fundraising campaigns that have raised over $430M. In the event that a campaign receives a high volume of complaints, GoFundMe will conduct an internal content review to determine the most appropriate course of action. Given the sheer volume of campaigns, each review is handled on a case-by-case basis. In this particular case, GoFundMe determined that the fundraising campaign titled “Justice for Daniel Holtzclaw” would be removed from the site.
As GoFundMe’s growth and popularity surges, the company will continue to refine and improve its content review process to ensure a positive experience for all visitors.